Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Reducing our carbon footprint

A few months ago, the Cunning Plans Dept worked out our carbon footprint using some thingummy on the web, and to be blunt, we suck. The web thingy did break it down into areas and while the house and general living wasn't too bad, our air travel and two cars were seriously in the "not good" category. Between this and generally become aware of a lot of great sustainable living options out there, we've been more motivated to make change to our lifestyle to live more sustainably.

Here's what we've got so far:
- good roof insulation and the house is double brick so it's go reasonable insulation, especially downstairs.
- electricity is 100% greenpower (i.e. all from renewable sources).
- energy saving light bulbs in all light fittings.
- dual flush installed on the downstairs toilet (upstairs already had it)
- grey water from shower now watering the backyard lawn (hose runs into a buried piece of ag pipe so it waters underground). Unfortunately we can't easily access the laundry grey water and we'd have the problem of what to do with it since you can't store it and we can't just have it run out into the back yard where the dogs can get to it and make themselves sick.
- 2500L rainwater tank installed down the side of the house and piping connected to water the back vegie gardens. We also have the "wine barrel" rainwater tank at the front of the house and it waters the front garden.
- garden is watered predominantly with rain water. So far this year I have only had 5 days where I needed to use mains water. When we use mains water, we use a watering can and limit usage. We also use water crystals in the soil and mulch to help minimise water requirements.
- All food waste composted (either compost heap or worm farms). We also use newspaper with mulch.
- growing some of our own vegies (not enough to avoid the shops completely, but a start)
- using organic gardening practices (no pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilisers etc..)
- recycling anything that can be recycled. Also making use of recycled materials around the house (e.g. turning bottoms of plastic bottles into seedling pots).
- using predominantly organic or at least "minimally processed" food, preferably locally sourced. I do still get torn between supporting organic farmers or local business (food production method vs food miles debate).
- using grey water safe cleaning and laundry products and not overusing these products (slight problem is that we have a cleaner and I don't know what he uses)
- clothes and linen from sustainable fibres like hemp, bamboo, or organic cotton.
- No plastic bags. In addition to the ubiquitous "green bags", I am a real fan of Onya weigh bags. They're small nylon net bags for loose fruit & veg like beans, peas, cherries etc.. They come in a little pouch that you can clip to your green bags. Actually, if you're crafty, you could probably make some. I also love those lightweight nylon bags that fold in on themselves into tiny bundles that can be easily carried in the handbag for emergencies.

Here's what we're working on:
- solar panels for the roof. Maybe solar hot water as well, depending on the outcome of our solar assessment.
- Magnetite window insulation (alternative to double glazing, which seems impossible to get) on the upstairs windows and master bedroom downstairs. Got a quote, just need to arrange a time to get everything measured and installed.
- another rainwater tank, preferable a big one on the lower terrace of the back yard to collect off the entertainment area roof.
- replacing the incredibly un-environmentally friendly Rodeo ute with something else. Since we're not doing SCA and therefore are not lugging copious amounts of stuff all over the country, we probably don't really need a ute. We do need a vehicle that the CPD can easily take onto work sites and preferably something that can transport the dogs when required. A station/sports wagon sort of thing would probably do. The CPD wants to go electric and possibly build his own fully electric car, since there are no fully electric cars on the market in Australia. If that turns out to be a longer term project, we may just go for something more fuel efficient like a Volkswagen Jetta Sportswagen TDI.
- in the next few years, replace the Elantra with something more fuel efficient. It actually isn't too bad, but we're hoping that in a few years, the electric technology will have improved and we can replace it with an electric car. I am tempted by the Honda Civic Hybrid if a fully electric option isn't available.
- fly less. Again, with us not doing SCA and therefore not flying interstate or to NZ every month, this should reduce. I know some airlines provide an option to purchase carbon credits with your flight, so maybe that's something to look into, because I would still like to get the odd holiday in every now and then.

Things that are a bit of a challenge:
- the two vehicle thing. The CPD needs a vehicle for work as he travels to a lot of sites that are inaccessible by public transport. Theoretically, I could use public transport to get to work, but I run into the problems of a) Wollongong public transport is abysmal, b) it would constrain my work hours in terms of when I arrive and leave and I need some flexibility here, c) lugging stuff to and from work on public transport would be an issue given my current feebleness. I know, lots of excuses. I honestly do think that if I lived somewhere with great public transport (like Melbourne), I'd happily be a public transport convert. Sadly Wollongong has a long way to go (well, NSW in general if you broaden it to include Cityrail). Cycling is not an option as I'm afraid of cars and lack the physical strength.

So that's where we're at. I'd be interested to hear what other folks are doing on the sustainable living front and any tips and tricks.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Garden update

With the hot weather finally breaking and some decent rain, things have started to take off again. About 5 days before the rain started, our 2500L rain water tank ran dry. Within 3 days of rain, it was full again.
The centre vegie patch is now looking like it has some life in it. The tomatoes are growing fast and the largest is producing fruit. The capsicums are starting to flower. The strawberries have been putting out runners like crazy and I've been nailing a few down so they'll put down roots.
This weekend I decided (somewhat belatedly) to stake the tangled mess of tomatoes in the front garden. I'd been letting them ramble, but with the wet weather they were starting to get manky.
The sunflowers have been producing a glorious display. Each plant has one big central flower, about 30cm in diameter, but also a bunch of smaller side flowers. They've been brightening up my house on the cloudy days.

Time to plant more seeds and this weekend I put in a row of leek seeds and a row of celery seeds into the seed raising trays. In a couple of weeks I'll put in another row, and then another lot a few weeks later. This should hopefully been I don't get inundated with celery and leeks later. I also planted a entire tray of marigolds and an entire tray of pyrethrum. The first planting of marigolds are still going well, but the first batch of pyrethrum didn't survive the heat. Speaking of marigolds, I've been collecting the seed from the dead flower heads. Anyone want any marigold seeds?

And just for Ms D, our first borage flower (bit blurry because it was from my phone camera)

In the side vegie patch, it looks like we've lost the corn crop to lots of tiny green bugs that have gotten in between the sheaves surrounding the cob. I have no idea what they are. Looks like they got into all the cobs and the kernels looked shrivelled and dry. Ah well, you loose some crops. On the plus side, the broccoli is finally starting to produce heads. Most of the plants are riddled with holes from cabbage white butterfly grubs (rotten little buggers) and I haven't managed to get down there with some Dipel to deal with them. I'm hoping that the damage is mostly to the leaves and they'll still produce decent heads. Reading my new gardening book, apparently I should have sown brassica seeds early this month and be planting out seedlings next month. I'm still getting the hang of this "what to plant when" part.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Can't wait to plant these!

Look what arrived in my seed order from Digger's club this week:
Okay, I had planned to get some beans anyway, but how could I resist a name like this? Downside is their planting time is Spring, so it could be a long wait before I get to find out what "Sex without strings" tastes like. Unless I just go ahead and plant them now, given that we tend to have mild enough weather on the coast they may just make it. Tempting.